Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.
I have been a fence sitter for a long time. It’s only been this last year that I came to terms with my disbelief. Saying I’m an atheist hasn’t been easy. Most people still don’t know. The subject doesn’t come up. Which I guess I’m fortunate in that respect. I am not outspoken or any sort of activist. But here’s the problem: my boyfriend of 3 years says he’s agnostic. He doesn’t like the idea of “hardcore atheists” (whatever that means). He pokes fun at me when religion comes up. Like when we watch a movie where people are praying or talking about god or when we are with his family and they pray before a meal he’ll stare at me to see if I have a reaction.
I’ve recently been trying to get into touch with any atheist organizations in my area. One is about an hour away. He jokingly said we should go and hold signs up saying we believe in god. (I can’t make it to the meet-up this time) I am at a loss on how to make him understand. I don’t know if he just doesn’t take my views seriously, or he’s hoping he doesn’t have to. Thanks for “listening”.
I think that your either/or assessment of your boyfriend is correct in both ways: He doesn’t take your views seriously, and he is hoping he doesn’t have to.
Something you should also assess is the strength of your self-esteem. You need to be able to say with conviction to yourself and others, “I deserve to be taken seriously, and I deserve a boyfriend who takes me seriously. I will not be discounted, dismissed or disrespected just to have a boyfriend or any other relationship.” If you’re already at that place, good. If not yet, then you should work to improve your sense of self-worth first.
Your decision about your disbelief is very new, and it came after considerable difficulty, so it is understandable that you don’t feel confident about it yet. There is often an emotional disquiet that lingers for a while after one reaches an intellectual conclusion of atheism. You need time and a safe person with whom you can share your views, understand them better, and become more comfortable discussing them. Your boyfriend might not be the best person for this task. Definitely go to the meet-up you found, and any other opportunity to meet atheists, but consider going there without him for the time being.
Once your confidence in your self-worth and your confidence about your views are stronger, you and he need to sit down and have a few serious talks.
It appears that he is not at all comfortable with what he thinks is your position. I say “what he thinks” because he might have misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions. Teasing, joking, and poking fun may be his indirect way of relieving his own tension about this topic, and his way to avoid confronting it directly. He is a little passive-aggressive about it. Passive-aggressive methods are usually very annoying to people. You will need to assertively demand that he stop such behaviors, and be direct, frank and respectful with you. Do your best to make it safe for him to be straight forward, and at the same time make it clear that you expect the same courtesy of safety from him.
Working together, the two of you should clarify exactly what he means by “hardcore atheist,” so both of you know if you actually fit whatever that means to him. During religious scenes in a movie or while others are saying grace at the table, his pointedly staring at you is rhetorical. He’s expressing something. Clarify exactly what he is saying by his stares, and tell him how you feel when he does that.
Clarify also what he means when he says he’s agnostic. He might mean the narrow definition that the existence of gods as described by believers is not knowable. He might mean the more common “Switzerland” stance of “Maybe yes, maybe no, I’m staying neutral.” He might reveal something entirely different, such as, “Actually, I do believe, but I said I’m agnostic because I didn’t want to fight with you about it.” Who knows what might be behind this discomfort he seems to have?
The point is, you need to know. He was your boyfriend for two years before you became more decided about your atheism, so he might have conflicting feelings about this change. Because differences in religious views can be extremely divisive, all these things should be out in the open, or misconceptions, assumptions, and resentments will drive a wedge between you.
Megan, I think that if you take this challenge as an opportunity for the two of you to grow and mature, as well as to practice better communication skills, your relationship will be healthier, more satisfying, and more beneficial for both of you.
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